Avishai Cohen ‘Almah’ CD (Parlophone France) 4/5

Avishai-Cohen-AlmahBassist Avishai Cohen has rightly earned something of a reputation as a highly gifted composer as well as performer of music and has in the last few years increasingly drawn up the music of the Middle East for his inspiration. This was beautifully captured on the 2011 album ‘Seven Seas’ which was one of this writer’s personal favourites of that year. For his latest effort Cohen, now singed to French Parlophone, has retained the same musical links, but this time around has added classical elements with the selective use of strings deployed under the aegis of a string quartet. This exploration of jazz and classical roots is something of a return to Cohen’s earliest musical education when studying western classical harmony on the piano in Jerusalem. His inventive creations are best heard on pieces such as ‘Arab Melody’ which comprises three famous melodies of Lebanese singer Samira Tawfik, or on the ballad ‘Southern Lullaby’ which is a composition written by one of the founding fathers of Israeli music Moshe Vilenski and one can certainly hear the Russian classical influence of Rachmaninov here. Further eastern European influences surface on the piece ‘On a Black Horse’ which is actually a Red Army theme and the connection between eastern Europe and the Middle East is crucial to both the genetic and musical makeup of modern-day Israel. A pared-down version can be heard on the old Israeli song ‘Kefel’ with a piano solo by Nitai Hershkovits. The only nod to the world of jazz is via a warm, soulful cover of Thad Jones’ ‘A Child is Born’.

Tim Stenhouse